It was 224 years ago today (16 October) that Marie-Antoinette was led to the scaffold and decapitated. The death sentence had been passed the day before at the conclusion of her show trial. Although this event technically falls outside the Versailles Century (1682-1789), I feel moved to include it today by Axel von Fersen‘s broken-hearted letter on the subject to his friend Lady Elizabeth Foster.
Axel von Fersen, of course, was famously the (probably) platonic lover of Marie-Antoinette. He played one of the principal roles in planning and carrying out the royal family’s attempted escape from Paris that ended in failure at Varennes.
This letter, dated 22 October 1793, has been published by the excellent French-language Facebook page Au Temps De Marie Antoinette. I’ve taken the liberty of translating it for anglophone readers:
Brussels, 22 October 1793
I did not think, dear lady, on receiving your letter of the 10th of this month, that my reply would be to announce news that is so afflicting to my heart. No doubt you already know that the Queen of France, the exemplar of queens and women, is no more. It was on the 16th at 11 o’clock in the morning that this crime was committed. It makes nature and humanity tremble, and my heart is cruelly torn. Yours is too sensitive not to share my pain. It is only alleviated by the idea that this unfortunate princess is at least delivered from the frightful pains and troubles she had endured for four years, and against which her courage alone could resist. Mme de Fitz-James is extremely afflicted, and we weep together for our mutual loss. I try to console her, but alas I am too much in need of consolation myself to be able to give any to her. I do not have the strength to give you any details about this sad event, but in any case those that we have are not very precise. Adieu, my dear friend, pity me, give me your news, and believe in my tender friendship for you. A thousand regards to our good and kind Duchess.
I have just received your packet for Count Elliot, and I will give your letter to the Duchesse de Fitz-James. Count Elliot arrived yesterday evening and left this morning.
1. Lady Elizabeth Foster (1759-1824) is thought to have had an affair with Fersen. At this time, she was living in a ménage à trois with Georgiana Cavendish, immortalized by Keira Knightly in the 2008 film The Duchess, and the 5th Duke of Devonshire, whom she eventually married after Georgiana’s death.
2. The Duchesse de Fitz-James mentioned here was the wife of Jacques Charles, 5th Duc de Fitz-James (1743-1805). Born Marie de Thiard de Bissy, she was a former lady-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette.
3. “Count Elliot” was Sir Gilbert Elliot, 4th Baronet, later the 1st Earl of Minto (1751-1814). He was presumably on his way from England to Corsica, where he was governor during the brief British rule over the island (1793-1796).
My translation and notes; Fersen’s letter was posted by the excellent but French-only Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/atdemarie.antoinette/?fref=mentions
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